One Clean Machine


Hey, when this filth-skipping DVD player hits the market, I got a few discs that might get smoke pouring out of the thing.

And who would you bet on in a cage match, Hollywood or Wal-Mart? If Wal-Mart wants such a device, chances are they'll sell a billion of the things.

(via Fark)

NEXT: Comic Strips and Peanut Butter: Two Great Tastes That Generate Legal Action

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  1. I self-edit movies all the time with the fast-forward button, especially porn. Same ole debate, though. Haven’t heard much lately about colorizing movies. Evidently the world did not end after all.

  2. I wonder if they’ll include a feature to do the reverse of its intended function: show only the “naughty bits.” Bet that would increase sales.

  3. i just don’t see why they’d care…more copies are being sold – apparently to people too stupid or careless or undisciplined to not buy movies that they know will offend them – and more money is being made. there’s no downside, no TIVO style juggernaut building…what gives?

  4. It is the bundling argument again. They have bundled quality naughty bits with undesirable bits of plot, or vice versa. All movies with both should be subject to legal action.

  5. Pete,

    I’ll bet that works if you reverse the plug.

  6. The lawsuit rests on the same argument that was earlier presented as “You have to watch the commercials.” In someone’s strange universe, it’s a violation of copyright to decide which parts you want to watch.

  7. Actually, garym, in someone’s strange universe, it’s a violation of copyright for someone to offer to sell the product or service of a “cleaned up, kid-friendly” movie to those who want to buy it.

    I wonder how well Walmart will say what it’s selling — which, if I understood it right, is a DVD player which can play cleaned-up versions of movies, but you have to buy the cleaned-up DVD rather than the original. (Also, I wonder how much extra the DVD costs for that little service.)

    I personally wouldn’t care to buy it, but if people are willing to pay for it, I’m not sure how it hurts the studios. Now, whether it is technically a violation of the copyright is another question.

  8. It doesn’t use special DVDs. As far as I can tell they went through 500 or so regular commercially-released DVDs and noted the locations and types of “offensive” content in each one. The player has built-in software that recognizes the DVD, and if the player has an event list associated with that DVD, it mutes or skips those parts of the movie that the user has chosen to block.

    There’s no copyright argument here, because none of the steps in the process makes a copy of the movie. Earlier attempts at releasing special “cleansed” versions of movies on VHS required the company providing the service to make a cleaned-up copy of the movie in order to sell it.

    Back when they were rolling out the DVD format, one of its touted features was to include this kind of coding on the disc itself, allowing the user to pick which version of the movie they wanted to watch without having to include multiple copies of the film on the disc. Based on the response this new product is getting from Hollywood, they probably couldn’t get the studios to cooperate. It doesn’t require any special hardware.

  9. The argument is even weaker than the “you have to watch commercials” argument. The commercials are what pay for your shows to be on. You buy the violence and sex scenes as part of the movie. Skipping the naughty bits is just skipping over stuff you already paid for, skipping commercials is skipping the stuff that the advertisers pay for you to see.

  10. This is one kind of protect-the-children kind of initiative I can actually agree with. It’s all market driven, as only ClearPlay owners who choose to activate the ClearPlay cues for a particular DVD get the gubernatorial-ass-free version of T3. I just wonder how this will work technologically – is the firmware upgradable, or do the bluenoses have to buy a new $79 player periodically? far better that than calls to Hollywood to produce no movies unacceptable for 6 year olds, which is the usual bluenose strategy. After all, I don’t let my kids watch HBO on Sunday night, but I sure watch it myself.

  11. It would be a whole lot easier to buy the movie moguls’ “you can’t change our movie” argument if they weren’t already releasing director’s cuts, European versions, “the stuff you didn’t see at the theater” versions, letterbox v. full-screen versions, subtitled v. dubbed versions, colorized v. B&W versions, etc. If they don’t want others editing out the good parts, they should do it themselves.

    Given the current atmosphere, only overwhelming self-righteousness keeps these directors from appearing before Congress and saying, “Look, we provide clean versions for the prudes that want them. Leave the rest of us the hell alone.”

    Yeah, I know. That wouldn’t satisfy the prudes. I remember the last time I appeared in a little theater production of Wizard of Oz. we got complaints because it was “filthy.” Glenda was portrayed as a good witch, see. And the folks complaining had the Word that all witches are evil spawn of Satan.

  12. For their home market, will Chinese DVD player manufacturers make versions that skip human rights?

  13. Does this mean I can apply whatever community standards I want, in the privacy of my own home? I think it does. I think in that case Ashcroft should take his new anti-porn initiative and shove it where the sun don’t shine.

  14. A company has released a DVD player that allows consumers to easily skip past segments of movies they don’t want to see. There is no copyright infringement, no “unlawful” editing going on, and no one’s rights or freedoms are being infringed.
    So what’s the BFD?

  15. Eric,

    This depends on your philosophical view of IP rights.

    Compare the following:

    “From what source, then is the common law drawn, which is admitted to be so clear, in respect of the copy before publication? From this argument – because it is just, that an author should reap pecuniary profits of his ingenuity and labor.” – Lord Justice Mansfield

    “…as the heavens and the earth belong to God, because they are the work of his word … so the author of a book is its complete master, and as such can dispose of it as he chooses.” – Marion (16th Century French Jurist)

    The former is a utilitarian approach; the latter views it as a moral right. Or, to draw a clearer distinction, Immanuel Kant wrote of the “natural obligation” to respect the author’s ownership and use of books. A machine which interfers with this sort of control would be a violation of copyright in many countries because of this different philosophical standard as it informs the law.

  16. The missing distinction in these analogies is that of distribution.

    Suppose you buy a book and rip out every third page. If you want to read it that way, no problem. If you want to resell it to someone else claiming it’s still the original, that’s a problem (fraud, even if not a copyright issue). If you make a bunch of copies of your missing-every-third-page book and distribute those as if they were the originals, the author will likely terminate any distribution agreement you have. This is where CleanFlicks gets in trouble.

    However, with the newfangled DVD player, the movie disc itself is the complete movie; there are no pages missing from the book, so to speak. The DVD player just allows you to skip selected parts of the DVD movie as it’s being played. It’s the high-tech equivalent of reading only 2/3rds of the pages in a book that still has all its pages.

    Hell, did any of you ever read those Choose Your Own Adventure books when you were kids? Those books actually had directions about which pages you were supposed to read. If you read them straight through from beginning to end, you were doing it wrong. Any suggestion that a purchaser is required to read or view all of his purchase is complete bullshit.

  17. So it’s like you sold a player piano that decided based on the holistic pattern of data on the scroll when to ignore an otherwise listed call for specific notes.

    Or, I don’t think I’ve mislayed the artist’s intent if I let my friend change the treble and bass on the graphic equalizer to his content between songs.

  18. Eric, the quote you bring up still doesn’t clear up the question of altering the original. Read one way, you have to buy the special movies, of which only 500 are available.

    Someone tried to sell software a couple years ago that allowed you to add “graffitti” to existing websites, and read the graffitti left on those sites by other people with the software. It was ruled an illegal intrusion into the free speech rights of the people who owned the websites. Does anyone else remember this episode? Any thoughts on how this does or does not apply here?

  19. joe-

    this differs from a graffiti approach. in the graffiti approach, notes left would be distributed to subsequent website visitors, whether those visitors wanted to see them or not. in the case of the DVD device, a person viewing the DVD needs to specifically seek out and acquire the device to view the abridged version. there is no follow-on distribution of that person’s particular abridgement, and there is no representation made that the abridgement actually is the original work.

    heck, if DVD abridgement is ruled illegal, I have no idea how cliff’s notes can be allowed to stay in business.

    for some odd reason I am reminded of the review of Lady Chatterly’s Lover which appeared in a 1959 issue of Field and Stream:

    This fictional account of the day-by-day life of an English gamekeeper is still of considerable interest to outdoor-minded readers, as it contains many passages on pheasant raising, the apprehending of poachers, ways to control vermin, and other chores and duties of the professional gamekeeper. Unfortunately, one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material in order to discover and savor these sidelights on the management of a Midlands shooting estate, and in this reviewer’s opinion this book cannot take the place of J.R. Miller’s Practical Gamekeeping.

  20. JB, colorization may be unique as many filmakers choose to use black and white over color, but that is no argument for forcing people to witness what they wish not to.

    If Mark Twain haters can edit out “nigger,” then what the hell is the difference between allowing this and not allowing the same thing on a DVD…

    JB, you also forget that the US is the only nation that does not ban literature unless it is obscene, and that rarely, unlike France, Canada, and the UK which all allow actions to lie where the speech is deemed “hate.” If those nations can outrightly ban literary works or censor works and allow producers of film to keep people from colorizing their films, aren’t they being hypocritical?

    This product only gives the consumer the choice of seeing and hearing what they want, even though they aren’t getting the full picture of what the producer wanted…This is, I think, a much better solution than censoring or banning literary works. The solution that other nations have come up with is one that is akin to blind ignorance of the capabilities of the market and its participants, consumers, to choose what they want and how they want it.

    If censorship is what people are labeling this machine, then those people are just dumb. Censorship occurs when government, or others, choose what others see, not the end-user.

    JB, under your logic, we lose liberties, not gain them.

  21. JB, no author can “dispose” of his work or control the use of his book. If they could, then many of us with uneven tables would have no more utilitarian books to use as counterbalances. Not to mention that this complete notion of control can stymie education by limiting interpretation to the author’s sole opinion of interpretation, a violation of which could be actionable. Horseshit…this is nothing more than reading the first chapter of a Stephen King novel and skipping to the last page. Under your position, would I owe King an apology for not reading the crap he so often spouts? What if I rented a movie and found that I didn’t like it, would I have to suffer through it, or could I skip the shitty scenes? What if I only wanted to watch Han Solo being dipped in Carbonite? Would I have to watch the whole damn Empire Strikes Back?

    All Wal-Mart is doing is giving consumers more possiblities with this DVD player. Consumers will be able to better control their interpretation of a movie. Anyone who disagrees is interpreting copyright laws as a mandate, and not a property right. If one was to sell land to someone else, they can limit certain activities on that land, but they can’t say that if a person goes to the well, they have to go by the creek. Same friggin argument here.

    This is the happy horseshit further perpetrated by the Disney-Bono Copyright law. This, my friends, is BULLSHIT. Let consumers have their choice.

  22. Look at it the other way – if I buy the rights to distribute a Mickey Mouse movie, and I then edit in some scenes of hot mouse-on-mouse backdoor action and sell the new cut, Disney absolutely has the right to take legal action. Especially if the dvds I’m selling continue to have the Disney logo on them (as the cleaned up/tracked movies will).

  23. blah,

    Actually, the only way one could see the graffitti was to access the websites using the special software – in other words, buying the product and actively seeking out the notes left by other owners of that software. It did not allow you to alter websites in such a way that ordinary web sufers would see the graffitti.

    That is a hilarious review.

  24. Joe,
    You are absolutely right. But this machine does not change any content – it merely makes it possible for consumers to skip unwanted scenes without pressing the fast forward button on the remote control. It also mutes cuss words, but so does network TV (or changes them). Again, I don’t see the BFD.

  25. What’s not being said is that for any new DVD’s being released, if you want the editing feature for those you’ll probably have to download the editing data into the thing or buy some sort of firmware upgrade. Most likely at an extra charge.

  26. Eric, when a teevee station buys the rights to a movie, the contract stipulates that they may edit it. As I understand the situation, Wal Mart has not been given the right to alter these movies.

    Also, the elimination of content can change a text’s meaning just as much as the addition of content. Didn’t you jump on Maureen Dowd for similiarly editting a Bush quote a few months back?

  27. Joe,
    But the content is not being changed. Wal Mart isn’t editing anything. The DVD is the same – the machine only plays the movie in the way the consumer wants it. It’s like people closing their eyes during certain scenes in the theater.

    Let’s take the book analogy. If I buy a book, do I have to read it cover to cover? Can I be sued if I read every other page, or skip certain pages or scenes, or read the ending first?

    Current DVDs allow viewers to jump to specific scenes, giving them the option to view the movie however they see fit. This machine does not change that – it just makes it easier.

  28. Look at it this way, Eric: would the ability of the viewing public to fast forward through the naughty scenes I add to the Mickey Mouse movie, above, invalidate Disney’s right to sue me for violating their intellectual property rights?

    BTW, I don’t really have a dog in this fight, I just think the legal issues it raises are interesting. Perhaps the only conclusion to draw is that existing copyright laws are bogus, or have been made obsolete by technology.

  29. Joe,
    “would the ability of the viewing public to fast forward through the naughty scenes I add to the Mickey Mouse movie, above, invalidate Disney’s right to sue me for violating their intellectual property rights?”

    Of course not, because you have violated the copyright. But that’s not the machine’s fault, because the machine didn’t edit anything. The machine takes a lawful DVD and makes it easier for folks to view it the way they please. There is no copyright infringement.

    I sort of have a dog in this fight, but the other way. I’ve published three short stories and am working on finding an agent and publisher for my first novel. So copyright laws are very important to me. I just don’t see any infringement on the part of the machine or its manufacturer.

  30. I think you’re making an artificial distinction between adding the extra line of data to the dvd, selling dvds with that extra data, manufacturing machines that read that data and edit the movie accordingly, and selling those machines. They all need to be considered as one act, don’t they? What if Wal Mart was buying the dvds, making the edits, then selling them that way?

    OTOH, the “random” feature on my cd player allows me to listen to the song on an album in a way that violates the copyright holder’s vision, too.

  31. richard,

    JB, no author can “dispose” of his work or control the use of his book.

    Sure they can; this is why in many European countries the creator of film can ban the use of colorizing techniques sas far as his or her film is concerned. Meet reality Richard.

  32. Joe,
    I think you’re making an artificial dis”inction between adding the extra line of data to the dvd, selling dvds with that extra data, manufacturing machines that read that data and edit the movie accordingly, and selling those machines”

    Actually, I think we’re talking past each other. Consider these paragraphs from the article:

    The ClearPlay system uses a set of programmed commands tailored to about 500 individual movies released on DVD. Not all movies are available, and Aho said ClearPlay won’t even try if filtering would ruin the film.

    The commands tell the DVD player when to mute dialog or skip segments that show 14 levels of violence, sex, nudity and profanity. The user can pick which filters to activate.

    According to that, there are no extra lines of data being added to the DVD. The DVD is not being changed in any way. The machine reads an unaltered DVD to decide what to skip or mute.

    Now, if these machine required altered DVDs to work, then I would be against it. But I don’t think it does.

  33. I can imagine these DVD players being construed as illegal in several European countries where authors of works are viewed as having “moral rights” to those works.

  34. JB mentioned the two models of IP rights, utilitarian and moral. I suspect that the US interpretation leans towards the utilitarian, as the Constitution gives Congress the power to grant and enforce copyrights, for the express purpose of encouraging developments in art and science. It does not do this because of some natural right of the author.

  35. Some people fail to understand that ClearPlay is not just for parents with young children. It is also for us adults who object to seeing what we consider offensive. Don’t we have the right to make the decision to use a film editing machine if that is our desire? Or should we be intimidated by those with less discriminating tastes? We all exercise our free will in a number of ways. Why not in the way we choose to watch movies in the privacy of our own homes?

    I have read accusations against ClearPlay that it tries to sanitize all movies so the whole family can enjoy them. Not true. If those accusers would only read the literature that comes with the DVD player, they would find this statement:”Even with ClearPlay, all movies are not appropriate for all ages. Parental discretion is always recommended.” This is so true. There are many movies out there that I do not wish to see, even with ClearPlay editing.

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